The Last Eight Years – Part 3

(Part 1 and Part 2)

Year 17 (World History and Photo)
After a three year hiatus, I was back to the course that defined my first ten years – CP World History. The course was in dire need of an overall and I was able to implement a series of new tech projects, especially since my photo lab was available every day. My second Digital Imagery Pathway cohort finally got the luxury of a full lab and took great advantage of it. We officially moved away from film and pushed the digital limits. It included an amazing mix of talents who will do amazing things as seniors in the capstone pathway class.

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Year 18 (Photo and US History)
With my good friend Dave Burgess taking a leave of absence to tour the tour the world on the wake of his book, Teach Like a Pirate, I was able to grab a US History section with another fantastic group of student in what would be my final year. I started my career desperately wanting to teach my major – US History, but got locked out of it most of my years. It is fitting that I was able to enjoy it for my last eight weeks of teaching. My colleague, Jarrod Carman, and I threw everything out we had done in previous years and started completely from scratch. I have always loved the challenge of developing a class, especially when working with someone with the same mindset. One of my big take aways from this last 18 years is that I have been lucky to have had a series of amazing collaborative experiences. I am who I am because I worked with smart, motivated, and resourceful peers.

The most bittersweet part of my departure this year was leaving my cohort of senior pathway students. In many ways, it was like a family reunion. We formed a close knit community in my class two years ago. They spent last year with another teacher, some occasionally visited and I caught up with others in the hallways in between classes. Then they came home. It was eight weeks of educational and artistic bliss. No time spent building rapport or setting class norms. It was the most natural beginning to a class. We just started rolling. And then I left.

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So there we have it. A self-indulgent and nostalgic snapshot of a series of milestones that characterize my adventure in and around the classroom. It all came down to five words – students, technology, collaboration, creativity, and relationships. Ideas that I take with me into my next world.

And it is now officially added to the historical record. However, make sure to consider my POV.

Those 18 year will forever define me as an educator.

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The Last Eight Years – Part 2

(See Part 1)

Year 13 (AP World, CP World, WASC)

Again I had another epic group of AP World students. This was the year of the revolution. My period 2 AP World History class staged a revolution in the weeks following our French Revolution unit. They had a series of demands. While I may have granted a few of them, it was only because I was secretly crushing their spirits. To this day, I reference it as just a mere failed rebellion. They closed out the year by putting post-its all over my car on the day of the final. I was neck deep in couple PBS projects all year and this when I took on the role of WASC Coordinator.

Year 14 (AP World, Photo, WASC)

After a part time Photography position opened up, I convinced my principal to let me take it on while keeping my two AP World History classes. As it turns out, this decision once again changed everything. I would find and embrace this new challenge by teaching a purely project-based class while getting my academic fix with a couple AP history classes. When I walked into the photo class, there were five digital cameras and six computers. We spent most of our time doing black and white film. Which is fun and all, but not as relevant in today’s world. When I left in October 2014, I had 60+ digital cameras and a computer for every kid. It also let me rediscover, refine, and redefine my style as a photographer and artist. Photography was always a personal journey for me, teaching brought together my worlds. I also stopped wearing ties.

This year’s AP students were the best I would have in my 6 year run. A huge group of them were pure academics, who embraced the class. Unlike most groups, they were also a community before and after my class – one that I would continue to be a part of for the next two years as many signed up for my photo classes. It was my finest and most rewarding year as a history teacher. Everything clicked. I just about fully flipped the classroom second semester and redefined my perception of being a teacher. It was my move to a totally student-centered class. This was also the year of the field trip-gone-wrong – one of those students made a pretty bad decision on a field trip that resulted in her arrest and the five other students getting suspended. The day after the trip was my lowest moment as a teacher.

Year 15 (AP World and Photo)

Can’t say I remember a lot about AP World History. Matt and I continued the transformation of the class to move it away from regular lectures. In photography, I was able to grow the digital resources. I connected with an inspiration photo teacher from another school and figured out how to teach the course in a way that made sense. We held the first annual READ contest (that continues in my absence today). I had a mixed Beginning and Advanced Photo class that pushed all the limits (artistic and others) and made me laugh every day (full of former AP World students from the last two years). Reuben and I began presenting workshops together as we took over the BTSA technology requirement.

Year 16 (AP World and Photo)

This year was another turning point. It was a year of travel. I started the summer with a trip to Philadelphia for ISTE, a trip to London and Paris with my wife, a week in Beijing doing technology staff development for my friend Scott’s international school, a trip for CUE to do PD in Cleveland, and finally 15 days in Europe with 25 students. I still have vivid memories of walking through the rubble of a Beijing hutong and along the Great Wall on a foggy afternoon. That summer trip allowed me to finally bring one group of students to Europe, fulfilling a teaching bucket list item from my own high school days.

While technology professional development was a constant throughout my career, Reuben and I stepped up our game significantly at the district, SDCUE, and around the county. It was also my AP World swan song. I had so many projects and plans that something had to give. We closed out the year with what I would consider the soul of the course – the movie Lagaan. In photography we, officially started our CTE Pathway with a great group of students demonstrated streaks of artistic genius and who would become family.

The Last Eight Years – Part 1

Perhaps I have always thought this way, but about eight years ago I really started to live and breathe my life as a teacher. I certainly worked hard enough in the beginning, but as I transition to AP World History and then Photography, teaching became who I was in a much more definitive manner.

Six months ago, I officially left the classroom for the job I always wanted – an admin educational technology job. I started this blog post about that time, but I started to avoid it when I got about halfway done. It is still a little surreal and I’m a sentimentalist who craves change. An odd mix, but here I am.

It has been eight years since I celebrated my 10 year anniversary of the classroom. At that time I felt it necessary to reflect on what had happened in those first ten years (Part 1 and Part 2). While I don’t update the blog much these days, I had planned to reflect on the next ten when I hit year 20. Since I didn’t make it 20, I wanted to get it down before the dark side of being an administrator clouded my thought process.

Year 10 (AP World and CP World)

While I covered this year in the first edition, it was a pivotal point in my teaching career that would take me a couple years to fully feel its significance. This was when I started teaching AP World History.  That six year journey would shake everything I knew about teaching and really changed everything. I got to teach to a level that satisfied my intellectual yearnings. The course itself changed my worldview, forcing me to look well beyond the context of the Eurocentric world history class I had been teaching up to this point. My systems theory worldview just clicked about halfway through the year. My connection to this group of students was especially strong, we all journeyed through 10,000 years of history for the first time together. That year was also when I finally completed my MA in Educational Technology from SDSU.

Year 11 (AP World and CP World)

While the year before was amazing, the workload was suffocating. Four sections of AP World was just not healthy. My good friend Matt joined me for the AP World journey.  My three CP classes were exceptional this year as well. I made a series of game changing steps in my ed tech trajectory when I became a Google Certified Teacher, joined the PBS Advisory Board, and started writing curriculum for PBS. It was also when I moved classrooms and started sharing an office with Reuben Hoffman. On a personal note, my daughter was born that December.

Year 12 (AP World, CP World, and Web Design)

By year three, I finally felt comfortable with the AP curriculum. This was when I started using Google Docs with my students and our collaborative review project included another school from the Northern California. I worked on the World Without Oil curriculum and then implemented it in the CP classes. It was one of those moments where kids connected to the world in an authentic manner. I added Web Design to my class load. This was a tremendous challenge because I do not have a knack for code, but I was able to have a handful of my year 10 AP World students in my class again. Really solidified my connection to this group. This was also when I took over the school website. Towards the end of the school year, I was nominated for the school and then district Teacher of the Year award. I wouldn’t win at the county level, but it was an honor to make it as far as I did. It also kept me at West Hills when I was seriously considering a move to a different school.

(Part 2 and Part 3)

An Early Gift

OK, so my wife was pregnant again. It was a rough, high risk pregnancy that a couple doctors implied would not last. After several months of bed rest, the issue appeared to resolve itself. Over the last couple weeks she has been having a lot of low key contractions. On Friday, we had to rush her to the hospital and then after an hour of monitoring, discovered her past problems had returned and an emergency c-section was necessary. We went from let’s see what happens to seven people in the room wheeling her to the OR while I had to follow filling out the consent form.
Evin Paige

Ends up the lives of both my wife and my new baby daughter were at risk. Fortunately right as things fell apart, all the other pieces came together. Certainly makes me, once again, appreciate modern medicine.

At 33 weeks she came out screaming and was discharged with my wife on Christmas Eve. The baby had to be readmitted on Christmas day but comes home again today. She is a fighter and survived in a situation that others haven’t. Her name reflects that spirit. Plus she has two older brothers, she needs to toughen up quick!

It has been a long strange trip (dating back to the beginning of this ordeal), but we are thrilled it is finally at an end and we can start our lives as a family of five (this is it!). Time to start truckin’.

First, First Day of School

I’ve had some 29 first days of school since I started attending my local public school in kindergarten – 13 as a K-12 student, 6 as a college/student teacher, then another 11 now as a teacher.

On Monday, my oldest, had his first, first day of school. We have been pumping it up for months now and he was very excited to go. When he got home, he was all smiles. Claimed he wanted to go everyday (don’t worry!) and wanted to live there (we can walk by on the weekends if he wants).

I hope his teacher and his parents can help him keep that excitement beyond the first few days of this new thing. When you think about it, school is the long haul. 13 years. If you don’t have the interest and/or the support network, it has got to be tough. It certainly explains some of the attitudes towards school and education I see at the high school level.

Good luck, kiddo! Your mommy and I are proud!

10 Years – Part 2

Here are the final five years of my ten year teaching career.

Year 6: United States History and World History.

This year is a blur. Don’t quite remember any details. This is when my love of United States history began to decline.

Year 7: World History and Humanities.
When I was in high school I did not have separate history and English classes, I had two-hour Humanities classes. An English teacher (who had attended the same high school) and I decided to do a similar program. We integrated the English and world history classes into a single class. We team taught the class – sometimes jamming 70 kids into one classroom. I loved having a chance to have the students for two hours at a time. We made a great team and had another great year. My second son was born at the end of the year.

Year 8: World History and Humanities.
Unfortunately, Humanities only filled a single block. That meant I had to have three other classes to fill out my load. For the first time, I took on an Applied Arts world history. This was a lower level class with a variety of students – some with legitimate learning disabilities, others as English language learners, and, to spice up the class, a decent chunk of behavior problems and lazy students. It was overall a tough year – my youngest didn’t sleep through the night and someone in the house was sick for much of the year.

Year 9: United States History and World History.
My Humanities teaching partner left the school and I decided that I didn’t want to try and bring another English teacher into the mix. For the first time, I tried taking on a 6/5 schedule – which meant no prep period (and more money). It nearly killed me. Second semester, I had a student teacher teach two of the world history classes. While I liked my U.S. History classes, especially the maturity difference between 10th and 11th graders, I really continued to connect more and more to world history.

Year 10: AP World History and World History.
Officially gave up United States History (except for summer school!). Took on AP World History. What a challenge. Probably the best teaching year of my career – right in the midst of a serious labor conflict and finishing my MA. Can’t wait to repeat this schedule next year. A lot of new tricks up my sleeve.

Reflections, insights, suggestions for new teachers, etc.

  • It takes a few years to discover your comfort zone. Experiment, don’t be afraid to be push the limit. If it doesn’t work, make it work or do something different.
  • Classroom management is everything. If you don’t have control, you won’t get anywhere. However, you have to relax. Don’t have too much control. A little (or a lot) of controlled chaos can go a long way and let your students relax as well.
  • Academically, be tough, but fair. Challenge them, don’t beat them down.
  • Relax. Smile. Have fun. Laugh at your students – they are funny, even when they don’t mean to be. Laugh with your students, especially when they make fun of you.
  • Be flexible. No lesson is more important then a teachable moment. How much of the Origins of Democratic Thought are they actually going to remember anyways. Let’s not take ourselves too seriously now.
  • Change. Don’t get stuck with stale curriculum. New lessons, projects, etc. will keep you invested in the curriculum – that investment will transfer to the students.
  • Don’t take your students actions personally. They are young. They won’t appreciate the time you put into a lesson or project. They won’t say thank you (except for a few, of course). Sometimes they just don’t care, its not you. It is the fact they are children and maybe human beings.
  • Read The World is Flat (yes I know some of his points are simplistic or a little off, but the gist of the book is very real) and then start teaching different. Use technology. Teach in a way that makes your students from your community have a chance in the global economy. Think how much different the world was ten years ago, how much different will be in ten more.
  • If you are a new teacher read Okay, rookie, we’re gonna put you in by Ms. Cornelius over at a Shrewdness of Apes.
  • Break away from you being the absolute center of the class, even if you enjoy it. They are the center, you need to help guide (and sometimes shove) them in the right direction.

It has been a great ten years. My favorite number is 11, this one should be a good year.

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10 Years

This year I celebrate two ten year anniversaries. The more important of the two, of course, is my marriage (which was on July 6th). My wife and I have been an amazing team, both supporting each other through two masters degrees, two kids, two home buying experiences, and a million other events. I could not imagine my life without her.

The second anniversary is teaching. In 1996, I received my teaching credential and was hired on at West Hills High School. It has been a long, and at times, strange trip, but overall it has been great. I would have never guessed my career would look like it does.

For my own sake, I have tried to recapture those ten years. It will come in two installments.

The First Five…

Year 1: Technology Fundamentals – 3/5’s – taught one section on LCII Macs and two sections on 286 PCs – in 1996, I was teaching Word Perfect 5.1. The program I typed my reports on in 1984. Good times.

Year 2: Geography and Journalism. Hired into the social studies department – sort of. Actually, I was appointed. There were three positions, the department hired their two student teachers, I was hired by the principal. I found out a few years later that was sort of forced upon them. Great. I guess I worked out ok in the long run. This principal tried to micromanage the school, by year 4 the staff would drive her out.

Geography was far, far away from my ideal class. Freshmen. Enough said.

I had pursued photojournalism in college and almost went in that direction after I graduated from college. I was the third journalism teacher in three years, it was an interesting transition, especially because the teacher who it was taken away from two years before was in my department. Teaching this class helped me totally transition from that career choice. My first journalism class is one of my most memorable.

Year 3: World History and Journalism. I was desperate to get rid of geography. Didn’t like the curriculum and I knew teaching freshmen would drive me from teaching. My major had been U.S. History, but world history was better then geography. Anything, but geography. In a modern world history class, I barely got to WWII. I remember the two days I taught about the Holocaust, were days that there were bomb threats at my school only a month after Columbine – almost a 50% absent rate. That year my journalism staff won all sorts of awards, was probably the peak of the paper at the school (to this day).

Year 4: World History and Journalism. Started working closely with my good friend Scott. We would spend the next two years collaborating on the world history curriculum. The foundation that we set in those two years still drive both of our curriculums. This year was an amazing journalism class. I had weeded out the deadweight, found funding for new computers, and really connected with the staff.

Year 5: United States History and World History.

I was planning on starting graduate school and starting a family so I gave up journalism – one of the toughest decisions of my career. In return I was able to get a section of U.S. History. When I decided to be a teacher, I envisioned myself teaching United States History – it was my major after all. I only had one section, but it was a great class. I threw myself into the curriculum and had a great year. My oldest son was born in December.

Years 6-10 coming soon…

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Perspective

It has been a packed and dramatic last couple of weeks. Just over a week ago, my union settled with the district (not officially until next week because we are on Spring Break). After all of the intensity, the stress, the rallies, the concern for my AP students, and the disappointment that I would have to use a decent amount of money we had saved to live off of for an indefinite period of time. There was also the fear that this superintendent and board were fighting an ideological battle (far right trying to destroy a union) and we would be out for a while. The deal we got is OK. Decent. The best we would get from this board, certainly a lot less then we figured to be fair, but the next step was a strike. We also have a bigger fish to fry – the board itself. Three seats are up for election in November. A chance to shift the balance of power, perhaps have an inefficient superintendent removed.

Then there are the TWO stacks of AP essays and pile of college prep projects. I’m trying not to look at them – maybe they will go away.

I am distracted. I can’t seem to get too excited about the deal. I am avoiding the essays and lesson planning I need to do. I am ignoring my bloglines account and the fact that baseball season has start has barely registered.

All of this is because there is something that is currently redefining my life. My oldest son has been having stomach issues for a couple years. We knew something was wrong, but his doctors couldn’t figure it out (one was honestly trying, the other wasn’t). Finally, my wife figured it out. He has Celiac Sprue. First, it isn’t deadly – it won’t kill him. It is intolerance to gluten (found in wheat, oats, barley, rye, and malt) – it is essentially poison to his body. His life was all about gluten – Cheerios for breakfast, sandwich or wrap for lunch, and pasta for dinner. He is a creature of habit and routines, so this is what he ate almost everyday.

My wife and I have been trying to wrap our brains around our new lifestyle. This disease (it is hard for me to say that word) is relatively common (although not mainstream) and there are many web sites and books that have helped us immensely. Luckily, my wife was already an avid cook and baker. She has already spent countless hours experimenting and trying new recipes for bread, cake, brownies, and cookies (you know, the important stuff). The stuff that will help normalize his life. Rice flour is not the same as sweet rice flour apparently. A specific brand of brown rice past has seamlessly replaced the regular variety. Corn tortillas have replaced flour ones. My son has been wonderful. He is smart enough to understand that he has to help take care of himself at five years old. He asks the grandparents if there is gluten in the special treats they try and give him. He even willing gave up some Easter candy he got from preschool yesterday.

We have gone through grieving, anger, frustration, and a bit of acceptance. But the biggest emotion we feel when he is in the room is relief. He had stopped growing. He was skinny; his almost-three year-old brother was quickly catching him in size. Getting him to eat was a battle. He complained of stomachaches regularly. He was lethargic. He was always tired. He avoided playing in big groups. He was off. Today he is a new kid. In two weeks he has gained five pounds. He won’t stop playing, running, laughing, and, most importantly, eating.

We missed so much of him in the last couple years, but we have him now. Welcome back kiddo.